Cambodia Electoral Assistance Project 1996-98 Final Report
From August 1996 until July 1997 the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) worked closely with the Royal Government of Cambodia (RCG) to strengthen and improve Cambodia's electoral framework in preparation for July 1998 parliamentary elections. In the form of on-site technical experts, IFES provided the know-how and comparative experience to accomplish a challenging scope of work which included drafting election laws and regulations, preparing an election calendar and budget, designing a voter registration system, initiating recruitment and training programs for election officials and pollworkers, procuring and distributing election supplies and equipment, ballot design, and voter education. IFES provided this assistance in a politically volatile and troubled environment, the result of decades of political turmoil and civil strife.
Beginning in 1996, IFES' election administration expert, Theo Noel, assisted the Ministry of Interior's (MOI) Election Law Drafting Committee with the drafting of new electoral laws and regulations. This expert also worked with the MOl's Bureau of Elections (BoE) with initial planning for implementation of the election law and corresponding regulations. He was joined in March 1997 by a training specialist, Carl Slaugenhaupt, who assisted the BoE's Training Unit as it developed training programs and handbooks for election officials. Both activities focused on building the institutional capacity of the BoE and its successor National Election Committee to conduct elections and to help promote honest, impartial and efficient administration of the 1998 national elections.
Although IFES' direct assistance to the government was suspended by the United States Government (USG) after the political events of July 1997, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) stepped in to financially support the bulk of the IFES-initiated project and staff. IFES, however, continued to facilitate an open dialogue with its former project staff, to provide comparative research, and to monitor the electoral environment, the development of the electoral process, and preparations for the July 1998 elections. In addition, IFES' work prior to the suspension continued to have a long-term impact in the following ways:
· In November 1996 IFES began planning for the technical and financial assistance which was conducted between July and December 1997. These activities included compiling critical information such as a master plan and calendar, conducting field research to determine information such as the number of needed polling stations, planning election mechanics and logistics, determining the cost of the elections, and preparing an elections budget and plan for raising the necessary amount of money.
· As stated above, IFES was instrumental in providing preliminary information which allowed officials who had never organized elections before to understand the magnitude of their assignment. This was critical to the BoE's decision to organize legislative elections prior to the commune elections.
· IFES spent considerable time building the capacity of Cambodian election officials during the election law drafting process to ensure that they fully comprehended the implications (from an administrative viewpoint) of basic principles relating to election mechanics, computerization of the registration process, voting systems, counting, and allocation of seats.
As election day approached, the clamoring of the international community and Cambodian opposition groups strongly suggested that there would be problems associated with the election based on the government's reluctance to take measures to ensure an open, transparent, and credible electoral exercise. IFES, in support of the USG's approach to the elections, worked to improve the political atmosphere surrounding the process by facilitating an international observation effort. The mission reflected the concern of the international community that the elections be conducted in as free and fair a manner as possible for the long-term stability of Cambodia and for the benefit of the Cambodian people.
Throughout these activities, IFES' long-standing reputation of technical competence and experience brought with it a unique level of non-partisan, non-governmental professionalism that has long been appreciated by the Ministry of Interior and the more recent National Election Committee (NEC). This reputation and experience in Cambodia enhanced the reliability and legitimacy of IFES' work in the eyes of the Cambodian government as it struggled to administer an electoral event congruent with international norms.